Ayrianna Lord was frustrated.
Doctors had said aquatic therapy could help her younger brother, Alexander, who was born with brain damage that greatly limits his mobility. But she and her family couldn’t find a product to help him float in the water, and his doctors had no suggestions.
One day, while venting to her mother about her disappointment, Lord said something that would change her life, her brother’s life and perhaps the lives of thousands more.
“Why don’t we just do it?” said Lord.
An idea becomes reality
Lord had completed her nursing prerequisites at LCCC in 2018 before transferring to The University of Akron. During her LCCC orientation, Lord learned about NEOLaunchNET, which offers student entrepreneurs free coaching and networking. She took her idea to the mentors there.
“We helped Ayrianna complete research for the viability of her idea and connected her with resources throughout Northeast Ohio,” says Matthew Poyle, program coordinator for NEOLaunchNET.
That included helping her establish her business, FreedomFloats LLC, and create a prototype for the product at LCCC’s Fab Lab. She also took part in NEOLaunchNET’s 2018 Global Entrepreneurship business competition, where she placed second.
As she fine-tuned her prototype, Lord had questions about polymer coatings that would make it more durable. To answer those questions, she turned to Regan Silvestri, her former chemistry professor at LCCC.
“I was struck by her passion and her story,” Silvestri says. “It’s not like she wanted to start a business. She just said, ‘I’ve got to help my brother, and this is how I’m going to do it. And I know it can help more people, too.’”
Silvestri guided Lord toward the right chemical formulation and to the Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Sites program. Funded by the National Science Foundation and coordinated by The University of Akron Research Foundation, I-Corps helps faculty, students and the community with new businesses.
Rising to the surface
Lord was the first LCCC student to qualify for the tech and entrepreneurship I-Corps program and she received $2,500 for completing it. But Lord knows that’s just a fraction of what she’ll need in order to obtain an international patent for her concept.
“Ayrianna truly wants to create a product that can help others,” Poyle said. “It’s never been about seeking a profit but helping the differently abled community and, in particular, her brother, Alexander.”
Alexander has taken a liking to Lord’s prototype. Being in the pool relaxes his muscles, clears his congestion and improves his circulation, Lord says. But beyond the physical impact the device has on Alexander, there is also the pure fun factor.
“My brother has pretty significant disabilities, and to see him just enjoying himself 100 percent and laughing the whole time he is in the pool is amazing,” says Lord.